PHDA 04 - Spatial Epidemiology and Outbreak Detection

Next course delivery:  January to April 2025

This course is now available to individuals residing outside of Canada. Please contact Program Coordinator, Ann Greenwood at or 250-721-8627 for more information.

This course provides an introduction to methods in spatial epidemiology and outbreak detection. The focus is on application rather than theory: this is not a course in spatial statistics.

The course is structured sequentially to move from spatial exploration of health data, to quantifying spatial patterns and clusters, to spatial exposure assessment and, finally, to methods for assessing risk.

Broadly, the spatial epidemiology part of the course focuses on:

  • assessing exposures through the use of a geographical information system (GIS)
  • conducting small area health studies (ecological models)
  • incorporating spatial parameters into models for individual health analyses.

The outbreak detection part of the course focuses on visualization of spatial data, disease surveillance and the use of spatial scan statistics in cluster detection.

 Learning objectives

  • Recognize when—and why—a spatial approach is required and the assumptions, strengths, limitations, and interpretations of different spatial methods used in health research.
  • Identify geospatial technologies and methods for epidemiology and cluster detection.
  • Choose an appropriate study design to address a specific spatial epidemiological question.
  • Visualize patterns of health and disease in place and time.
  • Analyze clusters and diffusion of disease to identify outbreaks.
  • Conduct small area and individual spatial epidemiology studies.
  • Critically interpret spatial epidemiology and outbreak detection methods.
  • Apply spatial epidemiology and outbreak detection methods to various population health research questions.


  • Admission to the PSC in Population Health Data Analysis or permission of the Faculty Advisor or Instructor.
  • Epidemiological Statistics (PHDA02) and Population Health and Geographic Information Systems (PHDA03) or proven proficiency in both areas. Proven proficiency includes: Working knowledge of basic statistical concepts (how to interpret P values, null hypothesis, and confidence intervals).
  • Some experience with regression modelling and basic programming using statistical software (e.g., DATA with SAS; regress/logit with Stata, etc.).
  • Some experience working with QGIS and MS Excel.

Note: If you are looking to enhance your required pre-requisite skills and knowledge prior to registration, contact us about accessible and free online courses and resources.

Instructor: Michael Branion-Calles

Michael Branion-Calles

Michael Branion-Calles currently serves as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UBC. He obtained a PhD in health sciences from Simon Fraser University in 2020 and a master’s degree in geography at the University of Victoria in 2015. Michael has over a decade of experience in GIS, spatial analysis and epidemiological approaches to public health research. His research seeks to answer applied questions that lie at the nexus of transportation, health and safety.


UVic logoThis program has been developed by Population Data BC in partnership with the Division of Continuing Studies, University of Victoria.

For further details, visit the Division of Continuing Studies webpage.

Course overview

Watch this video for an introduction to the PHDA course.